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Hate crimes bill passes US House as amendment to DOD authorization
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Hate crimes bill passes US House as amendment to DOD authorization

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Legislation adding sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes protections passed the US House of Representatives on Thursday, October 8.

The vote was 281-146, with 44 Republicans joining 237 Democrats to pass the bill. Voting No were 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

Now known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, recognizing Shepard and Byrd, an African American murdered in Jasper, Texas, the legislation would authorize the US Justice Department to investigate and assist in prosecuting hate crimes directed at LGBT persons in any state.

Unlike the House bill that passed in April, however, this was not a stand-alone hate crimes bill, but an amendment attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010.

A defense authorization bill allows Congress to appropriate money for Department of Defense operations and related activities like military construction, to pay military personnel, to fund veterans' benefits, and similar purposes.

Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and prime sponsor of the defense authorization, was lukewarm about including the hate crimes provisions, according to the Washington Blade newspaper.

Skelton reportedly wanted the hate crimes legislation to remain a stand-alone bill.

While many conservative Republicans opposed the bill because of the hate crimes amendment, some progressive Democrats like Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) voted No because of their opposition to provisions in the underlying defense authorization.

Many Republicans complained bitterly that they would have had to vote for pro-LGBT legislation in order to support military spending.

In a notable turn of phrase, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) said the hate crimes measure would "pervert" annual funding for national security. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) also denounced what he called "unrelated, divisive, liberal social policy."

In the Washington state delegation Democrats Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith and Republican Dave Reichert voted Yes. Democrat Brian Baird and Republicans Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers voted No.

The defense authorization for 2010 was reported out of a joint House-Senate conference on October 7, with the hate crimes amendment attached, reflecting the complex legislative history of the hate crimes bill.

Passage of new hate crimes legislation was never in doubt in the House, where the stand-alone bill passed 249-175 on April 29.

Democratic party leaders in the US Senate faced a more challenging task than their House colleagues, however.

Senate rules require that 60 Senators agree to bring a measure to a vote, and Senate Democrats feared that if even one conservative Democrat defected to the Republican side on this issue, the bill would never even come to the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decided to attach the hate crimes bill to what would normally be considered a must-pass Defense Department bill in an attempt at an end run around the expected Republican filibuster.

The defense authorization with its attached hate crimes amendment passed the Senate by a margin of 87-7 on July 23. In addition to the Democrats' hate crimes amendment, it also carried several Republican amendments that Reid allowed as a compromise to get the unanimous consent necessary to allow the bill to advance.

The most controversial of those amendments - one by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-S.C.) providing for the death penalty for some kinds of hate crimes - was stripped from the bill by the conference committee. Another Sessions amendment, adding assaults on US military personnel to the list of covered crimes, remains in the bill.

The House also followed the Senate's prior action in stripping funding for the F-22 aircraft.

The White House had said Pres. Obama would veto the defense bill - including the hate crimes provision - if funding for this program remained in the legislation. The Senate had voted to eliminate the F-22 funding in its version of the legislation, but the House version included $369 million in funding.

Now that the Defense Authorization - with its hate crimes amendment - has passed in the House, it must come up for a vote in the Senate, where it is almost certain to pass as well.

Pres. Obama has indicated he would sign the legislation, provided it reached his desk without F-22 funding.

The HRC said it expected Senate action as early as next week, but Sen. Reid's spokesperson Jim Manley said he didn't know when the conference report would come to the Senate floor for a vote.

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